60 seconds with Inga Beale
Thu 13 Jun 2013
Inga Beale, CEO of Canopius Group, is due to speak at the IICF Women in Insurance Global Conference, which takes place in New York on 12-14 June. She talks to us about some of the defining moments in her career and how to take control of certain situations.
Do you consider there to be a gender gap in the insurance industry, particularly at a senior level, and if so why?
I really wish I knew the answer. I talk to a lot of women who have been working as I have for 30 years in the industry and we wonder what happened to all those women who started when we did. We all have different behavioural traits – it’s not just a gender thing – and when an industry is full of a certain trait, it’s very difficult for other behaviours to be naturally accepted. This is a very general comment, but women tend to focus on their job and often don’t take the time to do those soft things like just having a chat or spending time after a meeting to talk to people. As soon as a break comes we tend to get on to a job we hadn’t quite finished and that can make it tough to get on.
Various reports have come out which suggest that having more women at a board level can make a big difference. Do you agree?
I think the business is run differently if you have women around the decision making table and that’s why it’s good to have diversity, not just on the gender side. Different people approach things differently and provide alternative views – diverse boards help companies make better decisions, which affect the bottom line.
What advice would you give to women who are rising up through the ranks in the industry?
I always talk about the PIE model: Performance, Image and Exposure, as I think it’s very important to remember those three aspects. When I started out in my career I just worked and worked and thought that was enough. I kept my head down and thought, ‘well of course I’m going to get recognised, because I’m working hard and doing a good job.’ But it isn’t enough. You do have to work hard on those other things such as image and exposure. Also, believe in your own ability. Some of the time we put our own “glass ceiling” on ourselves because we are not confident in our ability.
What will you be speaking about at the IICF?
I am going to be talking a bit about my career and the advice I would give to other people having been through various experiences. I believe that it is important for people to have role models to look up to and I feel it is part of my responsibility to do this for other women. Until we get more women around the decision-making table women are unlikely to get enough encouragement to really aspire to reach senior positions in the industry. Often women drop out the industry and set up their own consultancies or do something else because they’re sick of the politics in these large corporations.
Is insurance an enjoyable industry for women to work in?
Insurance is an enjoyable industry for anyone to work in. What I love about insurance, particularly when you get up to a global level of insurance and reinsurance, is you see what a difference it makes to the world. It becomes so fascinating when you see every headline, every disaster, and you know insurance is there behind it all making sure the infrastructure is paid for and everything gets back up and running. For me, that gives it some purpose.
A few years ago I attended some university recruitment road shows on behalf of a big group and we were competing with the big consultants, accountancy firms and the big banks. Those were the days when the banks were hiring all the good people and insurance was finding it tough. But as soon as you started talking about how we help the social side of life carry on, you captivated that audience. Insurance is obviously about making money, but it’s also about keeping the world going.
Is the industry getting better at attracting top talent?
It used to be very tough to get high calibre people into insurance. But with the way the banks have been suffering people are now thinking, “the insurers survived the crisis, their risk management must be sound and they’re growing so the returns must be great”. And people are seeing how far insurance spans – it is involved in every part of society, the world, industry, growth, expansion, emerging markets – everywhere. And therefore I think it is much more appealing these days.
It is a tough operating environment at the moment. What are some of the key challenges for you and Canopius as you look ahead?
There’s a lot of capital around and the thing is you never know what’s going to happen around the corner. You think you’re getting the pricing right to pay the claims of the future – that’s what we spend so much of our effort doing – but you never really know if you’ve got that right. With this capital coming in, perhaps there’s been some good returns in the market but you don’t know whether they’re going to continue for the future because pressure on prices means potentially you haven’t got a sustainable price and a sustainable return. And perhaps some of it is naive capital and investors assume they can just get the returns of the past when that’s not necessarily the case.
Then you’ve got very mature markets – such as Europe and the US – where there’s not that much organic growth going on. So everyone is looking at those markets that are emerging such as Latin America and Asia and again, as with the mature markets, there’s huge competition. When emerging markets start out in insurance it’s so difficult to get the pricing right. If you think about insuring properties for the flood risk say in China, you’ve really got no past to base the pricing for the future on. So it’s a challenge for those growing areas to constantly make sure you’re getting the pricing right and getting the data capture correct.